On Friday, August 10, The Ashwaubenon, Howard/Suamico/ Hobart Press published a letter written by representatives of the group Children First of Wisconsin. In addition, representatives and/or members of the group distributed similar information to district community members during the weekend of August 10.
While the Pulaski Community School District (PCSD) recognizes the importance of Americans’ first amendment right of free speech, especially during election season as it relates to political matters, we noticed that the group printed numerous inaccuracies both in the newspaper, online and in its flyers. (While there is no identification of group members who are PCSD residents on the flyers, the website was registered by Terri McCormick, President of the Appleton-based firm McCormick Dawson CPG, Ltd.)
We would like to take this time to correct these errors so that our citizens will have truthful and accurate information if they choose to attend the Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, August 15.
At the meeting, members of the board will be making a final decision if there will be a referendum on November 6. The meeting will begin at 6:00 p.m. in the Pulaski High School auditorium. Citizens of the district are encouraged to attend the board meeting, listen to the presentation and voice their opinions to the board.
In “The Press” article, flyers and online, the Appleton-based group made numerous inaccurate statements that we will would like to address now:
1) On the group’s website, they say that the referendum proposal includes a plan to replace athletic fields built in 2000. However, this is not the case. The referendum proposal for the district’s athletic complex would replace the facilities at Pulaski Community Middle School, which were built more than 30 years ago and currently do not meet ADA (Americans with Disability Act) standards, as the district was given a “grandfather exception” since the regulations went into effect after the facilities were built. While it may appear to an outsider, especially those that do not have children in school, that the high school has some athletic fields, the reality is that those fields are simply practice fields. According to WIAA regulations, the fields cannot be used for competitions against other schools. For those events, the district’s athletes, spectators, fans and guests must use the facilities at PCMS, which, again, are not only more than 30 years old, but are also not up to code. Additionally, the facilities do not contain adequate restroom facilities (in fact, fans must use rented port-a-potties which can often omit an unpleasant odor) and are located within a floodplain (resulting in saturated fields which often become torn-up after use and can be unsafe for our children).
2) The group’s website also says that the district is asking for a new high school pool, claiming that the district’s current pool was built just 12 years ago. However, this is also not true. While a referendum was held in the 1990s to build a new high school, a new pool WAS NOT built at this time, making the group’s claim false. Instead, the district’s current pool, located at PCMS, was built in the 1970s (more than 35 years ago), has already exceeded its expected lifespan of 20-25 years, and could break at anytime without warning. The district’s referendum proposal would fix this problem by building a new pool at Pulaski High School and converting the current pool into office space for PACE as well as the district’s technology department.
3) The group highlights the PCSD’s “cash on hand” balances and its’ “unspent funds” balances as seemingly negative things. However, they are actually positives. Because the school district does not receive its state aid or property tax income all at once, the PCSD (like most school districts) must short-term borrow funds in order to cover operational expenses for the first-half of the school year. Not only do the fund balances decrease the amount of money the district has to borrow at one time, but it also allows the district to borrow money at a better rate than it otherwise would, greatly reducing taxpayer expenses. Furthermore, because of this fund balance, if the referendum passes, the PCSD (which has a Standard and Poor’s AA bond rating) will be able to secure bonds with a much lower interest rate than it otherwise would, again making the most efficient use of taxpayer funds. Over the last 12 years, the district has steadily increased its fund balance to approximately 14 percent of its operating budget, a major shift from 2001 when the PCSD had a negative fund balance.
5) As part of its “FAMILY ALERT!” packet, the groups says that “Pulaski Schools are receiving new parking lots. In addition there are roof repairs, and HVAC replacements, which were not budgeted.” However, this information is 100 percent inaccurate. Funds for the referendum DO cover these costs, and taxpayers will not be on the hook for any additional funds if the referendum passes. Additionally, if the referendum passes, the district plans to continue to use its yearly budget responsibly, covering any additional costs that arise as a result of the expanded facilities (ie maintenance personnel costs, utility increases, etc.). None of the referendum funds will be used for operational purposes. During the past three years, the district has spent more than $1 million on capital maintenance needs; despite this, there are still major building and facility needs throughout the district. The district is asking to address these needs via a referendum due to the severe cutback in state funds.
6) The “FAMILY ALERT!” packet also says that families can expect “the 12 percent rate will increase further when all of the peripheral costs are added to support the referendum.” Again, this is false. The district cannot increase spending outside of the referendum as the result of state-imposed revenue caps.
7) In “The Press” article, the group says that referendum proposal includes a “Village of Pulaski Dance Studio.” However, it does not. The Board of Education scaled back the community pool facility from two stories to one story, thereby eliminating the studio/ community room in the interest of saving taxpayer money.
8) From 1995 to 2009, the PCSD property valuation grew from $500 million to $1.5 billion. While the district’s valuation has decreased slightly since 2009, overall, the average annual increase from 1995 to today is roughly seven percent.
While members of the Wisconsin Children’s First organization seem to be trying to paint a picture of fiscal carelessness and reckless spending by the PCSD, the facts simply point in the other direction.
Not only is the district’s mill rate 15 cents below the state average, but the PCSD also has the area’s second-lowest mill rate: lower than DePere, West DePere, Howard Suamico and the Green Bay school districts. (For example, the mill rates for both DePere and West DePere school districts are more than $2.00 higher than Pulaski’s mill rate.)
Additionally, Pulaski has the second-lowest per-pupil spending in the area. (Green Bay, by contrast, spends roughly $500 more per pupil than Pulaski.) Despite this, however, the district continually ranks above average in WKCE test scores, ACT test results and typically has 90 percent, or more, of its graduating class going on to pursue a secondary-education degree each year.
Finally, the district’s financial stability and health are in extremely good shape. Presently, because of its S&P AA bond rating, the PCSD can borrow money at lower rates, thereby saving taxpayer funds. Much of this stability stems from the district’s fiscal responsibility, including the “unspent funds” and “cash on hand” balances quoted negatively by Children First of Wisconsin.
Planning for the district referendum began more than five years ago, and there have been numerous opportunities for community and citizens input along the way, most notably this winter and early spring when listening sessions were held in each district school, providing citizens with an opportunity to give feedback directly to members of the Board of Education. Many of these suggestions were used as planning continued for November’s referendum, and board members slashed projects from a total of $46 million down to $29.9 million.
While public discourse and discussion are an important part of any election, distorting facts to miseducate voters does not benefit anyone in the community. It is the district’s hope that, in the future, members of Children First of Wisconsin will use facts to spread their message, rather than falsehoods.
For more information about the PCSD November referendum, all citizens are invited to attend the PCSD Board of Education meeting this Wednesday, August 15, at 6:00 p.m. in the Pulaski High School auditorium and visit the district’s referendum website. To view the claims made by Children First of Wisconsin, visit their website.
Filed under: Alerts